What happens when people with autism grow old?

The above-titled article showed up in my Facebook feed this morning; this is something I’ve been wondering about a lot, myself, lately. 

One observation that caught my eye:

Our analysis showed that age and severity of autism were linked; that is, as age increased so did the severity of autism symptoms in social situations, communication and flexible thinking (such as coping with change or generating new ideas or solutions). 

This seems to corroborate my own experience; my autism wasn’t diagnosed until my late forties, and while I have had lifelong issues, the diagnosis only came because some symptoms worsened over the past couple of years – enough to start causing significant problems in my work and personal life. 

There are other factors involved, in my case (the narcolepsy and other health problems) but chronic health issues are unfortunately part of getting older and it seems like there has not been a lot of research on how this impacts autistic people. 

It may seem surprising that people who received a diagnosis much later in life had more severe symptoms, as we might expect people with severe symptoms to be more likely to seek a diagnosis earlier in life. 

My guess here is that these ‘more severe symptoms’ are directly related to the late diagnosis,  that our systems are fried by a lifetime of trying to mask our differences and cope without understanding why certain aspects of life are so difficult for us? 

The article also mentions higher rates of depression and anxiety in autistic populations,  but doesn’t really explore what that could mean for long-term health. What chronic diseases are we predisposed to by constantly existing in a ‘fight or flight’ state? How is the prognosis for successfully recovering from injuries,  cancer,  or other debilitating illnesses affected by our autistic traits and the possible accompanying anxiety and/or depression?

To take this down an even darker path, what about cognitive issues as we become elderly? How do you separate autism-related communication problems, meltdowns,  shutdowns, and other coping problems from actual cognitive decline? I see the potential for misdiagnosis there. I also see a whole different set of challenges something like Alzheimer’s would present for an autistic individual. 

Anyway,  I  hope I’m actually making sense, since I  haven’t had more than four and a half hours of sleep the past few days with all the house-related stress… but that’s a topic for another post.  

The full article is here: http://theconversation.com/what-happens-when-people-with-autism-grow-old-65572

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